Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Stinking like pork fat and loving it.

Yesterday I ventured west of New Orleans, through Baton Rouge, and into the outskirts of Lafayette, Louisiana.  The mission - stop by five different meat shops, slaughterhouses, and delis to photograph a staple of southern health food, the cracklin.  Admittedly, cracklins aren't the most photogenic of foods, being that they're essentially fried chunks of pig skin.  As much as I love taking pictures and working through issues such as unflattering subjects, the road trip itself was even more fun.

I hate driving.  There's no point in softening that statement.  My wife will tell you that I have trouble sitting still and fidget constantly, so being forced to sit in a chair with at least one arm and one leg dedicated to controlling a vehicle is akin to torture.  I try to lessen the pain by eating junk food and listening to lectures on tape (though most people would probably say that hearing recordings about diachronic linguistics would make the drive immeasurably worse).  Regardless of my distaste for piloting the car, a bag of beef jerky and two wrong turns later (thanks again Google Maps), I made it to the first stop.

The best part about these road trips?  Being able to walk into a small, family owned shop, start chatting, and within 30 seconds be on my way to the back of the house to watch them do what they do.  They're usually excited about any sort of exposure which certainly helps, but something tells me I couldn't do that if it were a corporately owned business I was walking into.  These people cared.  I got a slew of stories from the owner of the slaughterhouse. The others were glad to say why their products were special, while throwing the occasional jab at the competition.  Keeping in mind that I was shooting pictures in fully operation shops during lunch hour, everybody was incredibly nice and accommodating.

I got to see things cooked and cooled and packaged.  I swapped stories with people whose accents we perfect examples of south Louisiana cajun.  I got greasy pork fat splattered on my feet and clothes while seeing chunks of meat sizzle in giant pots.  Everybody gave me little paper bags with samples to take home.  Even before the two hour return trip, all of the bags were soaked through with grease and cajun spices.  The car smelled like a meat shop the whole way back, but is was definitely a great day on the road.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dudes (and ladies) in dresses: Red Dress Run 2011

I had a great time at the Red Dress Run this year, despite some communications issues that led to there not being much of an actual run.  As usual, the crowds took liberal interpretations of what constitutes a "red dress" to make for some hilarious, beautiful, and downright disgusting sights.  I would've stayed in the quarter later into the evening, but I think the folks at the black tie gala that I photographed right afterward are glad I showered first.

Meet Romeo.  Partier, lady killer, ...bird. 
Mrs. Mad Hatter
There's a fine line between what dancing and stripping looks like.
Your earrings really bring out the color in your mustache.  
This off the shoulder piece allowed the meat cleaver tattoos to shine.
Lesson for festival goers:  Liquor results in less urine than beer.
Holding the swings while the kids waited in the beer line.
Why there are currently no red dresses in any stores within 30 miles of the city.  
The Red Dress... hula hoop?
"Dude, I'm serious.  Put on a dress and meet me in the French Quarter."
It's good to see our nation's first people represented.  
...sorry, man, that's not your shade of lipstick.  
Yes, I know what's down there, please don't raise the kilt. 
Just a typical Saturday in New Orleans.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How to Choose a Wedding Photographer

I wanted to share some information that will hopefully help you along as you search for your wedding photographer. There are a lot of photographers out there and you could drive yourself crazy trying to compare everybody.  On a basic level, we all take pictures, but there are vast differences in styles and abilities; how we run our businesses; and who we are as people.  How do you settle on just one?  Well I’m sort of a nerd who likes to reduce things to formulas, so I recommend you follow the “3P” formula.  What’s 3P? 

Person + Pictures + Prices = Your Photographer

These are the three factors you should consider when comparing photographers.  Too many people try to reduce things to a price, which can lead to a lot of unhappiness.  I guarantee that there’s somebody out there that will photograph your wedding for free, and you’ll get what you pay for.  If you only want the lowest price, then have all your friends and family send you their iPhone pictures. Bam! Done.  Since this is more than just a dollar for dollar comparison, let me expound on the parts of 3P. 

Most photographers will start their wedding coverage by photographing the bridal party getting ready.  They arrive at the house or hotel room where the girls are applying makeup and admiring the dresses; and the guys are enjoying a scotch while trying to figure out how to attach a boutonniere without drawing blood.  The photographer is first on the scene and with you when you’re not perfectly put together.  Depending on how much coverage you have, they might also be last on the scene to document your grand departure from the reception via horse drawn carriage, classic limo, tandem bicycle, or whatever conveyance you dreamt up.  In between, they’re going to be moving you into different light, twisting your body for the best angles, and coordinating your gathered friends and family into the big group photos that couples might not appreciate, but mom really wants. 

In short, you will spend more time in close contact with your photographer than any other wedding vendor.  As a photographer I always try to spend some time getting to know people before I point a lens at them, and you should do the same before you hire somebody.  Meet in person, have a video conference, talk on the phone.  Read their blog if they have one.  You’re trying to figure out if they’re somebody who can confidently get the job done, working within the crowds and chaos of a big party, while being pleasant and having fun at the same time.  Keep in mind that bigger studios will likely have multiple photographers, so make sure you talk with the one that will actually be working with you.

*You want somebody that you like, and believe me, for the best results, you want them to like you, too!  Positivity and fun leads to beauty and creativity and extra effort; negativity will lead to a professional getting the job done and getting out. 

This one should be obvious.  This is what you’re ultimately getting for your money.   Photographers should have plenty of work available for you to check out. There are the technical things you can look for – are the pictures too bright, too dark; the colors over or under saturated; are they stylized with different colors; do you like the lighting; do the people look awkward or uncomfortable?  These are the sorts of things that photographers will nitpick other photographers’ work on.  What might mean more to you is do the images convey feelings? Do the moments look sincere?  Unless you have some education in art or photography, you might not know specifically how to describe what you like or don’t like, only that you like it or not when you see it.  If a photograph stirs some sort of emotional reaction in you, then it’s doing its job. 

Keep in mind that pictures are supposed to tell a story.  Most photographers, regardless of how they describe themselves, will take a combination of candid, photojournalistic, and posed pictures as they document your day.  Looking through a photographer’s past work should make it apparent whether or not they can tell your story the way you want. 

*Photography is both a creative art and a highly technical skill.  Ask a photographer to explain how they made some of their images to get some stories and see how much or how little went into making an image.  Sometimes less is more, sometimes more is more. 

Everybody has a budget, so you should determine yours by starting with a couple of questions.  Firstly, what is photography worth to you? This is where I remind people that while the food gets eaten, the flowers wilt, the tux gets returned, and the music vanishes into the air, you keep the pictures.  Albums and prints from your wedding will become part of your family’s heritage.  I didn’t get to taste the food at my grandparents’ wedding, but over 50 years later, I still see the pictures from their wedding on display.  That said, I know there’s a practical element to your budget.  Discuss with your spouse-to-be, your parents, or any other benefactors you might have.   

So you have your numbers, now what?  You can check out ten different websites, some will have pricing, some won’t.  Some pricing will be in packages, some won’t.  Even packages that look similar can have a lot of differences.  Some photographers make their money up front, some try to make it on the printed products, some on the rights to the photographs.  Unless you’re in the industry, it will be very difficult for you to do an apples to apples comparison from photographer to photographer without really digging into the details.  You should take the time to talk directly with the photographer and have them explain their products so you really know what you’re getting.  A few components to look at:

The variety of printed books and albums available is immense, as are the price ranges.  Two packages might both offer a “12x8 20 page album”, but those albums could have different cover types, different papers and finishes, different page thicknesses, and different numbers of images allowed.  One of those books could cost three times what the other does to make.   Ask to see an example of exactly what you are getting. 

It’s not unreasonable to ask for a photographer’s print prices.  Portrait photographers make money by selling prints, so will tend to have much higher prices.  Wedding photographers tend to charge more as a base, so will often have lower print prices

*DO NOT compare these print prices to what you can get at Walmart or your local drugstore.  Firstly, Professional photographers go to great lengths to calibrate their computer monitors with their printers to ensure the quality of the prints.  Secondly, all you’re paying for at a Walmart is the cost of paper and ink and a machine.  Purchased through the photographer, you’re buying the right to their intellectual property.

Digital Images:
Many photographers will sell DVDs or USB sticks with the files and some sort of rights release.  You’ll want to inquire about what the release includes (whether you can print anywhere, copy the files, post them on the internet, alter them, sell them, etc.).  You’ll also want to ask what quality the images will be.  “High resolution” might only mean that you can make up to an 8x10” print. 

Hours of coverage:
Many packages mention a certain number of hours of coverage, with extra hours available for purchase.  Most people want their whole day documented from beginning to end.  Others try to time things so coverage will end as soon as the cake is cut.  I try to warn people that I’ve never had a wedding day last fewer than six hours.  More often I’m on the clock for eight to ten hours.  I’ve seen ceremonies run late causing receptions to start, and causing the vendors to chase down stressed brides for extra money to stick around.  Neither you nor the photographer want this to happen, so make sure you hire them for enough hours to document your day. 

Extra photographers:
Extra photographers mean more angles for important events, catching more people in candid moments, and additional hands to help the primary photographer do their thing more efficiently.  If you’ve got over 150 guests, more than six bridesmaids, or an unusually large venue, a second photographer is good to have. 

Extra sessions:
Some photographers with big packages will include extra sessions such as engagements, bridals, or trash the dress.  Have you been engaged for a year already?  Will your dress not be ready until two days before the wedding?  You should be able to pull these sessions out if you don’t want them, or buy them separately if they’re not included.  Actually working with a photographer on short session before the wedding day can be a good way to become more comfortable in front of the camera.  Some of the same price questions apply with these sessions as with any other.  How long are they and what do you get?

As you can see, pricing and packages can get pretty complex.  Try not to be overwhelmed.  Talk with some photographers, see some examples, and try to figure out exactly what you want and don’t want.  Find a package or a la carte option that gives you just that. 

There it is.  3P - Person, pictures, and price.  I hope this has been of some help.  I keep my inbox open to anybody that has more questions about what to ask or what to look for in photographers.  I promise, I try to give honest and unbiased responses.  If I sent this to you directly, I probably already sent you my shameless, totally biased, self-promotional piece anyway. 

Best of luck!

Steve Hronek
Photo Steevo

What to do when you get rained out

...and this is the festival BEFORE it rained.
I took the streetcar down to the French Quarter to check out Satchmo Festival for a while on Sunday.  It was ridiculously hot and steamy out, even for New Orleans.  I should've know that by the time I got down there, the sauna would quickly turn into a shower.  Tourists ran for cover, I figured I'd get bloody mary and try to wait it out.  A few spicy beans and olives later, I was ready to move on, rain or not.

There's something refreshing about going for a long walk in the rain.  The water clears the streets of people and its normal layer of grime.  It cools everything down to an almost tolerable temperature.  I covered block after block through the Quarter to Canal Street.  I walked into the casino a dripping mess, promising that I was only passing through.  Crossing under Poydras St. I came out to walk along Convention Center Blvd. through more rain, thunder, and the pools of water now starting to converge on the streets.

As nice as the rain can be, covering over a mile in it on foot can leave you open to relief.  I veered into the Riverwalk, happy to be in public place where I could wander around and people watch while I dried off.  After looping the colorful sights and smells of the food court I paused to listen to a damn good parody of Cee Lo Green's "Forget You" as done by the guy doing the fudge making demonstration.  Stopping to take a few photos of the candy dispensers, somebody who was undoubtedly a veteran fresh from a visit to the National WWII Museum down the street asked me if I was inspecting for bugs.  Why yes, sir, I am, but only in the Skittles and Chiclets.  Nobody, man or bug, would ever eat a Mike and Ike.

I emerged from the Riverwalk to find that the rain had finally stopped.  A few blocks up to St. Charles, and I was soon back on the streetcar heading home.  My clothes were soggy for the next couple of hours, but altogether, not a bad way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What people are searching for

So it's been a little over a year since I started this blog.  One of the fun things you can do when you have any sort of website is look at your statistics - number of page views, unique visitors, where visitors are from, referring websites, and my favorite, the search terms.  Yep, if you end up at a website by searching for it in Google, we can see what you looked for.

Most of the searches are directly for me.  Usually some interesting variant of "Photo Steevo," "photosteevo," "steevo's picture blog," "steevo photo."  One of the reasons I use Photo Steevo is that it's a little simpler to say and remember than the spelling and pronunciation of my last name.  (Hronek, only six letters, said like chronic without the c.  Not so difficult, eh?)  So I've seen "Steve Hronek," "Steve hornek," "steven hroenk," "how to pronounce hronek," and "where does hronek come from," among others.  At least some people are trying.  

Then there are some more fun searches.  I see a lot of "middle finger," "blow this," "blow classes," and "blow middle finger" because of this friendly post about customer service.

Then I see a lot of "how to make buckeyes," "buckeyes not stick to your fingers," "make buckeyes with wax," because of this post. Though that recipe works, I don't know if I'd trust anything posted on a random blog where the guy goes through things backwards.

I think my favorites have been the search terms that have popped up after my post that started with "How to tell your parents you're leaving..."  Since then, I've seen all sorts of phrases that follow the formula - How to tell "somebody" that you're leaving "something."  Examples?  "How to tell your parents you're leaving home," "how to tell your wife you're leaving her," and my favorite, "how to tell your dog you're leaving."  I have cats.  I leave a giant bowl of food out and they know.  They also try to stow away with me by sleeping in my suitcase...

I think a new goal for the next year should be to write a bunch of obscure "how to" articles.  How to eat crawfish like a northerner.  How to avoid getting mugged.  How to survive a summer in New Orleans.  Ok, I'm still trying to figure out that last one.  Step one - crank up the air conditioner.  Done.